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The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos
this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with
its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples
venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and
moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more
positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern
rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer,
but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard
Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour
franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy
of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such
illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara
Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors
Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It
is that exclusive—you can’t even find the
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length
concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
21 Jan 2016
Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw
The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a
last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance
at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna
Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.
Stepping in for Karel Mark Chichon, who cancelled due to illness, young
Italian conductor Pietro Rizzo led the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic in a
exciting, if imperfect, performance. It was evident that he had had very little
time with the orchestra. The first bars sounded rather scrabbly. There were
unsteady woodwind attacks, especially in the wedding scene, and the horn
section repeatedly lagged behind in Act III. Mr Rizzo’s signalling to the
Netherlands Radio Choir, who ushered in Butterfly with some heavenly sounds,
also suffered from their belated acquaintance. The Humming Chorus, sung
backstage, was adequate musically but lacked dynamic subtlety. Flaws aside,
however, the performance had a pulsating energy and was enriched with carefully
crafted details. Mr Rizzo can suspend a phrase in mid-air and then let it glide
down as gracefully as the folds of a kimono. He also whipped up some thrilling
Puccinian crests, although climaxes were hard-edged and needed more roundness
in the brass. Altogether, Mr Rizzo’s was an exciting Concertgebouw debut.
It was also his first time conducting in the Netherlands, and hopefully he will
return soon. There were excellent contributions from some of the principals, in
particular concertmaster Joris van Rijn’s tender solos, Ellen
Versney’s softly glittering harp and Paul Jussen’s portentous
All the soloists sang the music by heart, which is always a boon, and
entered and exited in character. Most of the supporting cast ranged from
acceptable to competent. As Goro tenor Ho-yoon Chung sang very well indeed, but
nothing in his characterisation suggested the marriage-broker’s base,
money-grubbing nature. He sounded more like a friendly next-door neighbour. A
cut above the rest were bass Miklós Sebestyén as the Bonze and the
three Dutch singers playing Kate Pinkerton and Butterfly’s relatives. Mr
Sebestyén was vocally commanding in his short scene, storming in to
renounce Cio-Cio-San for converting to Christianity. Maria Fiselier, Ruth
Willemse and Julia Westendorp were all outstanding.
Tenor Arnold Rutkowski has an attractive lyric voice with an interesting,
bittersweet chocolatey timbre. His Pinkerton was young and foolish and
completely unaware of the havoc he was wreaking. He was on solid ground as long
as he sang mezzo forte or louder. Softer singing resulted in quality loss. Mr
Rutkowski is very musical, but more dynamic control would increase his
expressive possibilities. He had all the high notes, which he jettisoned with
great physical energy, but the dicey trajectory they sometimes took made one
wish for more technical grip. Baritone Angelo Veccia was a suave and humane
Sharpless. His refined phrasing amply made up for some throatiness, mostly
evident in the upper third of the voice. Mr Veccia’s restrained Sharpless
found a dramatic foil in Marie-Nicole Lemieux, who brought her potent dramatic
presence to Suzuki. The extremes of her acerbic top and plunging contralto made
Butterfly’s maid and companion both fierce-tempered and fiercely
maternal. The orchestra was often a little too loud—a common issue at the
Concertgebouw, where sound carries further than some conductors
realise—but Ms Lemieux could easily counter the volume.
So could Lianna Haroutounian, who gave a world-class performance as the
abandoned teenage bride. Her Butterfly was trusting but dignified, and devoid
of simpering silliness. With its rich, silk-wrapped vibrato, even focus from
top to bottom, and that ductile quality Italians call morbidezza
(softness), Ms Haroutounian’s voice is ideal for the young heroine. And
she is a true spinto soprano, with enough power and stamina to tackle the
onerous third act. Her full top notes are confident and lustrous. She did not
take the high D flat at the end of the entrance aria, but the
composer-sanctioned lower alternative, and quite beautifully too. “Un bel
dì vedremo” (One fine day) was vocal perfection. She effectively
built up the tension during Butterfly’s imagined reunion with Pinkerton
and ended the aria in a stunning high B flat. Visibly emotional in the suicide
scene, she veered a little sharp in “Tu, tu, piccolo iddio” (You,
you, my little god). Halfway through, she refocused her voice and sailed
through to a secure finale. Unsurprisingly, the hall gave her a clamorous
ovation. San Francisco Opera has already announced that Ms Haroutounian will be
their Butterfly next season. No doubt she will be invited to sing this role at
several other houses. As many Puccini fans as possible need to hear her in it.
In fact, opera fans of all types need to hear Ms Haroutounian, in any of her
roles—hers is one of the major voices of our time.
Cast and production information:
Cio-Cio-San — Lianna Haroutounian, Suzuki — Marie-Nicole
Lemieux, Arnold Rutkowski — Pinkerton, Sharpless — Angelo Veccia,
Goro — Ho-yoon Chung, Prince Yamadori— Yujoong Kim, The
Bonze— Miklós Sebestyén, Yakusidé — Hee-Saup Yoon,
The Imperial Commissioner — Enseok Choi, The Official Registrar —
Kyung-Il Ko, Cio-Cio-San’s Mother — Ruth Willemse, Kate
Pinkerton/Aunt — Maria Fiselier, Niece — Julia Westendorp,
Conductor — Pietro Rizzo, Netherlands Radio Choir, Netherlands Radio
Philharmonic. Heard at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam on Saturday,
16th January, 2016.